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Thursday, September 29, 2005

They Know His Voice

In John 10, Jesus talks about Himself as the Shepherd and us as His sheep. In the analogy of the shepherd/sheep, He explains that His sheep follow Him because they know His voice.

In talking with other believers, however, I have found that we rarely seem to understand what the voice of Jesus is, and how we can know it. Recently, another blogger even posted a couple essays (with a debate ensuing in the comments forum) complaining about people who claim that God has spoken to them. The points made usually have to do with some of the following:

  • God doesn't care what you eat for breakfast, so don't tell me that God leads you in those little areas of life.
  • Any revelation outside of Scripture is suspect, so therefore, stay away from "personal revelation."
  • Those "promptings" that you feel inside are quite possibly just you having an idea using common sense, so don't credit God with it.

Well, interestingly enough, I once wrote an essay called "Quit Blaming God", and today I want to take the opposite approach and say, "Quit denying it's God!" This idea that God doesn't want to speak to you personally is not only very sad, but according to the way I read the statements of Jesus, it is unbiblical. Setting up straw men such as "God doesn't care what you eat for breakfast" is not a good way to approach the argument.

When we see verses in Scripture such as Psalm 37:23 ("The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord") and 1 Corinthians 10:31 ("...Do it all for the glory of God"), I think we have to conclude that God really is interested in what we do with our life. And juxtaposing that with Jesus' comments about us hearing His voice, we have to conclude that, at least at some level, God is going to be speaking to us. I'm not trying to just twist some proof text out of Scripture, but I believe that the whole scope of Scripture gives us a story of a God Who is very personally interested in the lives of His children.

I find that the opponents of the idea that God speaks to us today often base it on the fact that they personally have not experienced what they believe to be God speaking. And while they're often quick to deny that they are ruling out the possibility of God speaking personally to someone, they still end up denying it with their arguments.

One writer commented that when God spoke to people in Scripture, it was very clear that God was speaking, and there was no chance that the message would not be heard. The example is sometimes given of God speaking to Abraham and telling him to move to the Promised Land. Or God speaking to Jonah and telling him to go to Ninevah. Or...

But here are the problems that I have with that, and I think this issue is something that needs to be considered carefully. First of all, not every place that God speaks to someone, even in the Old Testament, is it specifically stated that God spoke audibly. We know from Scripture that God spoke in different ways. Sometimes He spoke through dreams. Sometimes He spoke through an angel that appeared physically in front of the person, etc.. So, it is difficult to specify a finite set (or closed set) of methods through which God speaks.

The second issue I have is that these major examples of God speaking audibly, etc., are from the Old Testament. We must (and I can't stress "must" enough) realize that Christ's appearance on this earth changed a lot of things. Consider this progression:

  • God asked Israel to come to the mountain so He could speak personally to the whole nation
  • Israel was scared and asked Moses to speak/listen for them, and they would obey Moses
  • A whole line of prophets resulted, wherein God spoke to one person, and that person communicated His words to the people (The prophet was "the man of God", and he said, "This is what the Lord says to you")
  • Jesus comes, not speaking the words of God, but as the Word of God. (Jesus was not simply "the man of God", He was "man and God". He didn't say, "This is what the Lord says to you." He said, "This is what I say to you.")

So, then, Jesus says that we would follow Him and listen to Him because we know His voice. Then, He goes on in John 14:26 to say that He would give us the Holy Spirit, Who would "teach [us] all things." So, those "promptings" or "gut feelings" we have inside? Why just write them off as our own thoughts? Why not trust that God is actually speaking to us?

Let me give you an example which some might dismiss as just strange or wacky, but which illustrates my point:

Last year, I was practicing my golf swing in the field across the road from our house. I sometimes go out there with four or five balls, hit them all one particular direction, gather them up, hit them back the other way, etc. Sometimes, when the grass is longer, however, as it was this particular day, it's relatively easy to lose a ball down in the grass. In those instances, to avoid causing problems for the crew that mows the field, I stop and hunt for the ball until I find it.

On this one particular occasion, I was searching for a lost ball in the general area in which I thought it went. I must have searched for about 10 or 15 minutes without any success. I walked back and forth, back and forth, very methodically covering a wide area around the spot I thought the ball had gone. With every step, I brushed away dead grass to see if the ball was beneath it, probed the live grass with my club to see if the ball had gone all the way down to the ground beneath, etc. Nothing. I expanded my area of search, and again continued to carefully search every square inch of that area. Still nothing.

At this point, I came to a decision. Jesus told us that God notices when a small bird falls to the ground. I knew that there was One Who knew exactly where my golf ball was, and so I decided to ask Him. "Lord," I prayed, "I know this is a rather trivial matter, but I do not want to leave this golf ball out in the grass to potentially damage the mower or cause damage to something else. I know that You know where the ball is, and I need you to guide me to it."

Instantly, and I do mean instantly, I experienced what I believe was the leading of the Lord. Call it whatever you want to: a gut feeling, a sudden thought -- whatever it was, I suddenly knew to walk directly to a spot that was not even anywhere close to my search area. (My shot had been a lot worse than I realized!) I didn't have to walk back and forth until I reached that point. I just immediately walked diagonally from where I had been searching to this spot, stopped, looked down, and saw the golf ball lying right beside my foot.

Now, the question I want to ask is, why should I not give God credit for that? Why should I say, "Oh, I guess my subconscious mind just finally remembered where the shot had landed, and I went there on my own?" To say that was not God leading me, or speaking to me, seems to me to be very calloused and almost blasphemous. It would be similar, in my mind, to someone saying to Jesus, "Lord, heal me of this awful disease", and then when He healed them, saying, "Wow, that medicine the doctor gave me was so wonderful that it took my disease away."

So where am I going with all this? Well, maybe I need to write a part 2 to this essay, since it's already quite lengthy, and I'm not sure I've said even half of what is on my heart. The point is, for Christians to say that they don't believe God speaks today through anything but the Bible, and/or that He only speaks about things that are "significant", I think we cut off a huge part of the relationship that God wants us to have with Him. Why else would He go to such great lengths to finally circumvent the whole "prophet/thus saith the Lord" situation that Israel had requested? Is it not obvious that God wants to speak to us, and wants us to listen to Him?

This perhaps, then, begs the question: How do we know the voice of God? I think I will go ahead and write a part 2 in the days ahead and try to answer that question on some levels.

Until next time,

steve :)

4 comment(s):

A thought came to mind near the beginning of your post. His sheep hear His voice, yes. But sheep do not understand human language like you and I could understand Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, or English. My dogs react when I say "cat" or "squirrel" or "look what I got." But I cannot have an in-depth, two-sided conversation with my dogs. I cannot explain to my dogs that the animals on TV are not present in the room. I could train them not to bark at the TV, but I doubt they ever would figure out that the animals are not there. The screen seems too much like a window with animals on the other side.

So perhaps the confusion behind this stems from misunderstanding the words of Jesus. That is, we often do not understand His words completely when we read them in the Bible. We are His sheep. His sheep hear His voice. But you did not hear Jesus audibly or in your mind explain in English where the golfball was. He led you like a sheep, a "dumb animal," to where the ball was. But as far as you as a sheep are concerned, His voice could have sounded like anything.

The trouble in charismatic circles is that "My sheep hear my voice" can be used as a proof text that we should be able to hear God speak to us understandably, if not audibly, on a regular basis. This kind of reasoning leads to much heartache among Christians who do not hear God's voice understandably, but who have been led to believe they should.

By Anonymous Michael Rew, at Thursday, September 29, 2005 12:45:00 PM  

I have reflected often on the experience of hearing God. Having spent 18 years in a "charisma" church, it was a mainstay of our(my) theological underpinnings.

Michael Rew's comment is very accurate. Yet, I believe there is a state of human experience occurring within the "abiding in Christ" paradigm where the voice of God is quite real. Often, I recognize Him as a nudge within my heart to move my feelings from anxiousness to peace or impatience to patience. Sometimes, a thought (and therefore His, since I am His and in Him) is clear and in English and it is directive.

As my last comment suggests, I rarely bog down anymore over, "Is this God I am hearing." It is all God to me now. No, I don't believe that God is speaking to me when I hear a thought that is tempting toward sin; I do believe that I hear the temptation as one who is in the Spirit of God, abiding in Jesus, and He is fully able to always resist. Hence, I hear Him speak in all situations by listening for His presence in faith and following His initiatives. The entire spiritual economy is a function of His grace from which I gain no credit(glory)but which I continually experience.

I think the problem with modern "Christian" experience, charismatic experience being only one example, is that self-centeredness remains the core of thinking. If we analyze Christian experience as humans on a separate plane from God (with an us and Him divide, then have we not developed our perspectives and rationales out of our pride or fear? We cannot escape these basic human flaws in separation from Him. These are our nature as humans.

The simple key to freedom is in identification with Christ. Our new creature in Him alone enables a human expression not motivated by fear or pride. Paul said, "I preach Christ and Him crucified." The crucifixion enables us to become one with God, Christ in-dwells from that moment; and to the degree we see ourselves as fully in Him (this is what makes it a walk of faith), we experience the abundant life beyond all that we could imagine to ask for.

As I look back on those 18 years immersed in the denomination of a non-denominational organization committed to "charisma theology", I recognize clearly in the light of His presence how our insistence that we HEARD God was in large measure a function of our pride. We wanted to believe we had the "revelation" of the Truth others were missing. Speaking of hearing God affirmatively was the unspoken proof that we were correct. In other words, we wanted to believe in our "revelation"--we wanted to believe in OURSELVES.

God in His mercy and desire to deliver us from us allowed us to feel the consequences of our folly. Our theology produced painful and conflicting results. Evidence enough for anyone to recognize that what we preached was out of sync with a multitude of Jesus' words about peace and rest found in Him.

Evidence anyway for anyone with ears to hear other things beyond what one wants to hear.

By Anonymous ded, at Saturday, October 01, 2005 6:52:00 AM  

I have reflected often on the experience of hearing God. Having spent 18 years in a "charisma" church, it was a mainstay of our(my) theological underpinnings.

Michael Rew's comment is very accurate. Yet, I believe there is a state of human experience occurring within the "abiding in Christ" paradigm where the voice of God is quite real. Often, I recognize Him as a nudge within my heart to move my feelings from anxiousness to peace or impatience to patience. Sometimes, a thought (and therefore His, since I am His and in Him) is clear and in English and it is directive.

As my last comment suggests, I rarely bog down anymore over, "Is this God I am hearing." It is all God to me now. No, I don't believe that God is speaking to me when I hear a thought that is tempting toward sin; I do believe that I hear the temptation as one who is in the Spirit of God, abiding in Jesus, and He is fully able to always resist. Hence, I hear Him speak in all situations by listening for His presence in faith and following His initiatives. The entire spiritual economy is a function of His grace from which I gain no credit(glory)but which I continually experience.

I think the problem with modern "Christian" experience, charismatic experience being only one example, is that self-centeredness remains the core of thinking. If we analyze Christian experience as humans on a separate plane from God (with an us and Him divide, then have we not developed our perspectives and rationales out of our pride or fear? We cannot escape these basic human flaws in separation from Him. These are our nature as humans.

The simple key to freedom is in identification with Christ. Our new creature in Him alone enables a human expression not motivated by fear or pride. Paul said, "I preach Christ and Him crucified." The crucifixion enables us to become one with God, Christ in-dwells from that moment; and to the degree we see ourselves as fully in Him (this is what makes it a walk of faith), we experience the abundant life beyond all that we could imagine to ask for.

As I look back on those 18 years immersed in the denomination of a non-denominational organization committed to "charisma theology", I recognize clearly in the light of His presence how our insistence that we HEARD God was in large measure a function of our pride. We wanted to believe we had the "revelation" of the Truth others were missing. Speaking of hearing God affirmatively was the unspoken proof that we were correct. In other words, we wanted to believe in our "revelation"--we wanted to believe in OURSELVES.

God in His mercy and desire to deliver us from us allowed us to feel the consequences of our folly. Our theology produced painful and conflicting results. Evidence enough for anyone to recognize that what we preached was out of sync with a multitude of Jesus' words about peace and rest found in Him.

Evidence anyway for anyone with ears to hear other things beyond what one wants to hear.

By Anonymous ded, at Saturday, October 01, 2005 6:52:00 AM  

Sorry, my tech savvy is lacking...didn't mean to post twice!

By Anonymous ded, at Saturday, October 01, 2005 6:53:00 AM  

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